Fight against global warming can strike a blow for the economy, too

Will Steger
Polar explorer Will Steger.
Submitted photo

On a cold, dark day this past December, I faced my expedition team. Granted, we were not traveling across the Arctic, but the challenge that lay ahead wasn't that different from the minus 40 degree temperatures and strong winds my team had faced crossing Antarctica. On this day, our challenge lay in moving the U.S. Senate forward to see that it enacted the pledges President Obama had made at the United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen.

My expedition team, a group of 12 youth from across the Midwest, spent a year working together to ensure that the United States was invested in meaningful participation in Copenhagen and to highlight the unique role of the Midwest region. The Midwest is a key player in driving national climate policy, public opinion and the transition to a clean energy economy, and ultimately to pass a comprehensive climate bill in the United States that would finally put a price on carbon, one of the main drivers of global climate change.

Now, eight months later, I am keenly aware that the progress we made the last few years has not resulted in the policies that our youth -- and the children who will come after them -- so desperately need.

Climate news is ubiquitous, from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that the planet has just come through the warmest decade, the warmest six months and the warmest spring on record; to countries like Russia, Iraq and Sudan breaking their all-time temperature records; to a recent study from Canadian researchers that warmer seawater has reduced phytoplankton, the base of the marine food chain, by 40 percent since 1950.

Just recently, an ice island four times the size of Manhattan has broken off from the Petermann Glacier in Greenland, the largest calving of an iceberg in the Arctic since 1962. Scientists believe rising sea and air temperatures in northern Greenland probably hastened the calving. The worst news of all was that our senators and our president did not do anything to ensure we have legislation to reduce carbon emissions.

When I give my presentation, "Eyewitness to Global Warming," to any audience, I can see the despair people feel in the face of all that is happening as a result of warming. However, when I talk about economic solutions, people are inspired, especially when I focus on the American can-do spirit and ingenuity we have to overcome any challenge. It is critical that we do not give up. I still feel very strongly that climate change is one of the biggest opportunities -- ever -- to turn our economy and environment around.

We're not getting people's attention when it comes to climate change, but they are focused on the economy. We need to get the economy going again, and this is directly connected to making the transition to local energy production and clean energy jobs. Take northern Minnesota, for instance: If we had a biomass energy system in northeastern Minnesota, the logging industry would be employed and we would have home-grown energy. This is the kind of clean energy future we need to create.

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Will Steger is known for his numerous polar expeditions. He established the Will Steger Foundation in 2006, dedicated to climate change education and solutions.

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